Every time food and diet is mentioned my mum is always the first to point to post and pre war Britain. The 1950s was a time when no there was no obesity crisis and the records show that people were the happiest they have been in generations. She believes that food rationing was the best way to stay healthy and happy.
In my teens and even into my late twenties I used to think that this was simply not true. How could a population of people be skinny on meat, potatoes and dairy? In a time when there were no gyms or skimmed milk I was sure there must have been a few heavier people. In the 1990s we were living in a Weight Watchers fueled world that was all about the low fat diet. It didn’t seem possible to me that you could maintain your weight when you were consuming full fat dairy.
As a child growing up in the 1980s I was overweight and even into my early twenties I have suffered with weight and hormone issues. It has only been in the last six years that I have managed to stay healthy. However, it has not been an easy road and I have found it difficult at times. I have now found that taking regular exercise, giving up sugar and eating smaller portions is the best way to keep my weight down.
Although, it has been challenging at times I’m pleased with the outcome. I have been learning recently about food and the impact it can have on our bodies. It has now left me wondering if my mum’s theory is correct. So I decided to do a little bit of research on the topic and I have found some really interesting facts about the 1950s.
Food rationing began in 1939 and ended in 1954. It went on for 14 years and meat rationing continued for 10 years after D-Day in 1954. Britain was importing food at the time the war started and the Germans were targeting the ships that were supplying the food. The government was worried that this would lead to food shortages, the prices would increase and the poor would not be able to afford to eat. So they introduced a system of rationing.
Every person in Britain was given a rationing book, they had to register and then they could buy their food from their chosen shops. There were no supermarkets at this time so people would buy their food from several different shops.
People, mainly housewives, in the 1950s would have to walk to several different places to buy their food. There were no cars or public transport so women would have walked for 30 minutes to an hour most days to get their food shopping done. There were no refrigderators either which meant walking to the shops would have been a daily routine.
Compared with todays housewives, mothers or grandmothers, women in the 1950s were exercising considerably more. There were also no washing machines so women would do their washing using a mangle. It was a lot more labour intensive and women of this generation spent a lot more time doing housework. They were burning more calories because they had to move a lot more.
Items like sugar were considered a luxury and were on ration and processed foods like pizzas from a supermarket freezer were unheard of back then. Although, there were tinned and bottled food but these were on ration as well. Women would prepare all the meals at home and they would spend a lot more time in the kitchen making food from scratch.
Food was scarce so housewives would have to be creative in the kitchen. Nothing was thrown away and everything was eaten. Normally, a housewife would prepare three meals a day as the husband would be home for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At this time, growing your own fruit and vegetables was encouraged by the government. More time was spent around the home in general. A treat would be having a fish and chip dinner once in a while.
Nowadays we have a lot more gadgets to help us with the housework and we no longer have to walk to the shops. Most people now drive to the supermarket and everything is under one roof. We are no longer on rations and people have a lot more today than they did in the 1950s.
According to a report by the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development, children’s health in the 1950s was also superior to children of the 1990s. Children in the 1950s had a much higher intake of key nutrients including fibre, calcium, vitamins and iron. The researchers discovered that 1950s children, ate more bread and milk, increasing their fibre and calcium intake, drank few soft drinks, deriving less of their energy from sugar, got most of their vitamin C from vegetables rather than juices and drink, ate more red meat, giving them more iron and had more fat in their diet. These findings are in line with the recommendations on nutrition today.
Since 1990 the problem of childhood obesity has emerged as a major public health threat. Many more people and children are becoming what is known as ‘clinically obese’. Thanks to celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and others campaigning their will be a tax on sugary drinks in Britain by 2018. The money raised from these taxes will go towards education and healthier school meals.
This is a great start to tackling the obesity crisis in this country. But I do not feel it’s the answer to our problems. Nor do I believe that returning to rationing would be a good idea. We need to let people make up their own minds about the food and drink they want to consume. The government has a major role to play in the our children’s lives. We need to educate our children in food and diet. Then trust that they will make the right decisions for themselves.
Last year I embarked on the sugar free journey and along the way I have been learning so much about food. I now believe that no two people are alike and everyone will respond differently to food. We need to get a better understanding of our bodies, minds and wellbeing. To do this we need to give our children the right tools for the job and help them to make their own decisions.
Britain as a nation was forced into a terrible situation in 1939 and they had to make the best of what they had for 14 years. People pulled together in a crisis and I would imagine if we had to do it again today we would do the same. Fortunately we do not have to make these decisions today but we do need to help the people in the present and future. As a nation we could learn from the past and then move forward to a healthier tomorrow.